Workplace Compensation Claims Reflect the Toll COVID-19 Has Taken on Canadian Workers

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Jeffrey Freedman is a “long haul” COVID-19 – one of many Canadians who have lingering health issues after falling ill with the virus. He says he now regrets going into work during the first days of the pandemic after falling ill in early April.Freedman worked at a tile company that supplied Toronto’s busy residential construction industry, which was seen as an essential service and remained open as other companies were ordered to close. He says he felt he had no choice but to report for work, despite the risk of infection.

“I was at an impasse. But because we needed the money and my feelings for my clients, I kept coming and going and working eight hours a day. ”

CBC News contacted provincial workers’ compensation boards across the country and found that more than 26,000 claims had been filed by people who contracted COVID-19 at work. Freedman is one of more than 20,000 people whose claims have been approved.

Thousands of claims across Canada

Workplace compensation claims statistics are the first concrete indication of the number of people contracting COVID-19 at work in Canada, but it’s an incomplete picture.

There is no standard accounting for the number of people who have fallen ill on the job due to a patchwork of provincial and federal tracks.

Additionally, the system does not capture COVID-19 cases among workers who are ineligible or who simply do not submit claims.

Freedman developed symptoms of COVID-19 in April and went to hospital, where he was told he was a suspected case and needed to go home and self-isolate. A few days later, he was having trouble breathing and was rushed to hospital by paramedics. He spent 44 days there, mostly on a ventilator to fight the infection.

“I have brain fog. I have permanent damage to my ICU vocal cords and tubing for 33 days. I have constant pain in my neck and biceps, ”he says.

Freedman, now 65, said that instead of enjoying his retirement and his travel dreams, he will never be able to drive again and still struggles to survive every day.

“I have a major and major pressure sore on my butt after being in intensive care that has recovered to the point where I can at least sit up, but I can’t sleep properly except for more than 10 minutes at a time. And I am very weak and tired, usually at 3 a.m. each day. ”

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario (WSIB) accepted Freedman’s claim and has since helped him and his wife, Lori, replace Freedman’s lost wages. and helping to renovate their bathroom to accommodate his injuries.

WATCH | What it’s like to be a ‘long-haul’ COVID:

Jeffrey Freedman caught the coronavirus in March and still suffers from persistent health problems after being hospitalized for six weeks. 9:22

Frontline worker complaints rejected

In Ontario and British Columbia, data shows that most claims come from workers in health care and agriculture facilities. However, a quarter of workers in Ontario are not covered by the workers’ compensation system at all, compared to British Columbia, where all workers are covered.

Uncovered Ontario workers include a large number of industries such as private nursing homes, social assistance services, and the technology and banking sectors.

Staff wear protective gear when taking orders at a Montreal restaurant in July. There is no standard accounting in Canada of the number of people who have fallen ill with COVID-19 at work due to a patchwork of provincial and federal tracking. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)

“It really highlights the absurdity of having a compensation system that just wipes out whole swathes of industries and says you don’t qualify for coverage, and it’s very difficult to track down these people. because when they go to the hospital, their complaint doesn’t work. t be billed using a WSIB number, ”said David Newberry, a community legal worker at the Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic in Toronto.

About 1,425 claims had been rejected in Ontario as of November 13, including hundreds in front-line sectors such as health care.

Newberry said the rejected claims – as well as the fact that the WSIB only pays 85 percent of a worker’s full salary – do not align with claims that these workers are “heroes” who keep the economy going. walking during a pandemic.

“As companies spend millions of dollars putting up billboards and advertisements on buses to thank our frontline workers for being heroes – when people get sick in these workplaces, let it be to store our shelves or take care of our grandparents, what they get is… a 15% pay cut. ”

Jennifer Collins worked as a nurse at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., The site of a major outbreak that killed 29 residents in the spring. She said she did not have adequate access to personal protective equipment and fell ill with COVID-19 in March, leaving her with lingering health issues.

Collins was not hospitalized and she said the lack of medical records relating to her illness hampered her workers’ compensation claim.

Security guards and a healthcare worker wait for patients at the COVID-19 testing center at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto in June. About 1,425 workers’ compensation claims have been dismissed in Ontario as of November 13, including hundreds in frontline industries such as health care. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

“I received a phone call from [WSIB], and they said they realized with COVID that it was a special case, “she said,” but because they didn’t have any medical data or documents to back up what I told them. said I was not eligible. ”

Collins said she was still suffering from exhaustion and could only walk two blocks before her hips reacted. “Every day I try to push myself harder, but it’s difficult and it’s frustrating,” she said.

After being refused, Collins instead applied for Canada’s emergency response benefit and was approved.

Even with approval, the fight is not always over

In Ontario, the WSIB dismissed 302 claims from workers in nursing and residential care facilities.

At the end of the day, many people who get sick at work are the ones who don’t have the option of working from home. Newberry, of the Injured Workers Legal Clinic, said these workers may not even know they can access workers’ compensation – especially new Canadians who may not know the language or languages. workplace laws.

David Newberry, a community legal worker at the Injured Worker Community Legal Clinic in Toronto, says the rejected claims – as well as the WSIB paying only 85% of a worker’s full salary – don’t match the claims that these workers are “heroes who keep the economy going during a pandemic.” (CBC)

“Those who are most vulnerable are those who are generally the least likely to know that these things are available,” he said.

But even for those whose claims are approved, the fight is not always over.

Jeffrey Freedman received a notice on Friday that his employer was appealing his workers’ compensation claim, insisting he had taken all the necessary precautions and that there was no evidence he had the COVID-19 at work.

As the costs of workers’ compensation claims increase, so do the premiums that employers have to pay. Newberry said the system prompts employers to appeal approved claims.

“Worker’s compensation systems in Canada are set in a model similar to that of private insurance,” he said.

“Even if… the injured worker manages to prove that their claim is valid, this process can take years and it can be very stressful.

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